Driving under the influence and distracted driving are well-known hazards, but few people think twice about getting behind the wheel when feeling drowsy, a sleep expert warns. “Drivers can reduce the danger by being aware of risk factors and taking precautions,” said Dr. Praveen Rudraraju, who directs the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Each year, nearly 100,000 traffic crashes can be attributed to drowsy driving, including more than 1,500 deaths and over 70,000 injuries, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most drowsy driving accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m. among drivers who are alone in their vehicle. Risk factors for drowsy driving include: sleep loss — even just one hour less than you need; use of sleep aids, anti-anxiety medications or alcohol; driving long hours with few or no breaks, driving alone or with sleeping passengers; and having undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of drowsy driving, Rudaraju said. Don’t consume alcohol and don’t take sedatives. If you feel drowsy when driving, find a safe place to pull over and nap. But even though a short nap can help, it’s best to get proper sleep. Talk to your doctor about problems falling or staying asleep, especially if you are tired after a…  read on >

Has that week-old yogurt really gone bad? Did the chicken you bought just three days ago already spoil? Your smartphone might one day be able to tell you, new research suggests. A group of scientists is developing a portable, inexpensive and easy-to-use electronic tag to send wireless alerts to smartphones when a telltale gas is emitted by rotten food. “As we know, spoiled food can be very harmful to our health,” said study author Guihua Yu. “But sometimes we cannot easily notice the slightly degraded food by smell or vision. Therefore, we aim to develop a cost-effective wireless sensor for food spoilage detection with the assistance of mobile phones,” he explained. Yu is a professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Foodborne illnesses strike 48 million Americans each year, leading to over 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To tackle the problem, Yu and his colleagues first put together a tiny gas sensor with a very high sensitivity to the odor-causing “biogenic amines” that are released when food goes bad. Then, the team embedded the sensors into “near-field communication” (NFC) tags, of the sort already deployed by businesses to track product shipping. The NFC sensor tags were then put through a bad meat test, because slightly spoiled meat is…  read on >

Millions of Americans may be getting the wrong treatment to prevent a heart attack or stroke, a new study suggests. Prescriptions for blood-thinning aspirin, cholesterol-lowering statins and blood pressure medications might be incorrect because a tool that estimates risk appears to be off by as much as 20 percent, Stanford University researchers reported. That means almost 12 million Americans could have the wrong medication, according to the team led by Dr. Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine. It appears medications are overprescribed in many cases. But for black patients, outdated risk calculations may actually underestimate risk, the study authors said. Risk estimate tools predict the likelihood of a future heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. Doctors use these tools to help them decide what treatment a patient needs, if any at all. But these tools are only helpful if they’re accurate. There’s been concern that some of the statistical methods used to develop a commonly used risk estimate tool in 2013 may be prone to miscalculating risk. “What initially prompted us to do this study was a patient I had, an African-American gentleman who I thought was at pretty high risk for a heart attack or stroke. But when I put his information into the web calculator, it returned a bizarrely low-risk estimate,” explained Basu. When he looked into this issue,…  read on >

A computer can beat even highly experienced dermatologists in spotting deadly melanomas, researchers report. The study is the latest to test the idea that “artificial intelligence” can improve medical diagnoses. Typically, it works like this: Researchers develop an algorithm using “deep learning” — where the computer system essentially mimics the brain’s neural networks. It’s exposed to a large number of images — of breast tumors, for example — and it teaches itself to recognize key features. The new study pitted a well-honed computer algorithm against 58 dermatologists, to see whether machine or humans were better at differentiating melanomas from moles. It turned out the algorithm was usually more accurate. It missed fewer melanomas, and was less likely to misdiagnose a benign mole as cancer. That does not mean computers will someday be diagnosing skin cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Holger Haenssle, of the University of Heidelberg in Germany. “I don’t think physicians will be replaced,” Haenssle said. Instead, he explained, doctors could use artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool. “In the future, AI may help physicians focus on the most suspicious skin lesions,” Haenssle said. A patient might, for instance, undergo whole-body photography (a technology that’s already available), then have those images “interpreted” by a computer algorithm. “In the next step,” Haenssle explained, “the physician may examine only those lesions labeled as ‘suspicious’ by the…  read on >

Hit-and-run deaths in the United States reached a record high in 2016, a new report shows. “Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Our analysis shows that hit-and-run crashes are a growing traffic safety challenge and the AAA Foundation would like to work with all stakeholders to help curtail this problem,” he added in a news release from the foundation. Hit-and-run deaths in the United States rose an average of 7 percent a year since 2009, with more than 2,000 deaths reported in 2016. That’s the highest number on record and a 60 percent increase since 2009, the authors of the report said. The highest per-capita rates of such deaths were in New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida, while the lowest rates were in New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota. Nearly 65 percent of people killed in hit-and-runs in the United States are pedestrians and bicyclists. Over the past 10 years, nearly 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths were due to hit-and-runs. That’s compared to just 1 percent of all driver deaths in that same time period. Since 2006, there has been an average of 682,000 hit-and-run accidents a year according to the findings, which were released April 26. Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations for AAA, said that “it…  read on >

Your cellphone puts the world at your fingertips, but it can wreak havoc with your neck. There’s even a name for the pain you get when looking down at your screen — “text neck” — and it can cause problems along the entire length of your spine. Bending your head forward multiplies the amount of weight your neck muscles need to support. Normally your neck supports the 10 pounds that your head weighs, but when bending forward it may need to support the equivalent of 60 pounds. The following tips from the University of California’s Ergonomics Injury Prevention Program can help. Find the best angle. The best viewing angle is a bit below eye level, so remember to adjust the way you hold your phone. Give it a rest. Being constantly bent over looking at your screen or contorting yourself to view your smartphone from different angles can cause problems. Take frequent breaks and use that time to stretch your neck, shoulders and back. Make adjustments. Your smartphone comes with myriad ways to adjust how you use it. Learn how to change the settings for font size, contrast and brightness to make it easier to see the screen — that helps to avoid eye strain, which can lead to headaches. How you hold your phone also makes a difference. You should frequently change the way…  read on >